Back in the 1990s, computer gamers became more and more familiar with what have become known as “cutscenes.” These animated transitions offer a taste of the world envisioned by the game designers and a bit of movie making magic. I fondly remember the actors in the cutscenes for games like Command & Conquer and CGI-animated ones such as those in Diablo 2. Sometimes the cutscenes were actually better than the games themselves, now that I think about it.
Though I have to admit I haven’t played many games with good cutscenes lately, every now and then I see an animated feature that reminds me of them. Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40,000 Movie definitely falls into that category as it merges my love for a good cutscene with another love of mine: roleplaying games.
Warhammer 40,000 was created by Games Workshop back in 1987 with a rich and textured backstory mixed with miniatures, wargaming, and roleplaying game elements. This combination has gained a well-deserved worldwide following over the last 20+ years resulting in many novels, supplements, competitions, and even computer games.
The folks at Games Workshop describe the setting much better than I can:
Welcome to Warhammer 40,000
The 41st Millennium is a savage future age where Mankind must battle for survival in a galaxy riven by bloodshed and destruction. Humanity teeters on the brink of extinction, assailed on all sides by aliens, traitors and Daemons, and only the superhuman strength of the Space Marines and the uncountable numbers of the Imperial Guard stand between the slavering alien hordes and total annihilation.
Ultramarines focuses on a small group of Ultramarines – the best of the best – led by their seasoned commander Severus (voiced by Terence Stamp, Superman II, Valkyrie). Many members of the squad are new and don’t yet understand the ravages of war, but are ready for the chance to prove themselves on the field of combat. One of them, Proteus (Sean Pertwee) is even more anxious to prove himself worthy to lead his own squad to victory.
The squad heads to a distant planet to answer a distress call from a full company of Imperial Fists stationed there. When they arrive, they find the bodies of dead marines everywhere. What could have possibly destroyed an entire company of hardened soldiers? As they investigate further, they encounter the priest Carnak (voiced by John Hurt, Alien, Hellboy, V for Vendetta) and his guardian Nidon (Johnny Harris).
Let me say that at first I was a bit discouraged by the CGI animation of the feature. It felt like I was watching someone else play a video game. But it quickly grew on me as the film progressed and I began to see it in a different light. Ultramarines is ultimately one long computer game cutscene. It’s well produced, with great action, great voiceovers, and a great story of a small force against overwhelming odds. But it boils down to one 75 minute cutscene.
Once I accepted that one major truth for the movie, I enjoyed the rest quite a bit. I got into the story with this squad of inexperienced Ultramarines as they faced their worst nightmares over and over again – and mostly survived. It’s the glory and the gore of the Warhammer universe without the artificiality of seeing real actors in permanent space armor for more than an hour. I can’t imagine a live action version of this movie without it quickly turning into a mockery of the setting and story.
Was it amazing? No. Was it great getting a glimpse into the hell that is the endless battle between Order and Chaos as a Space Marine? Heck yes! Now I might have to go back and look for some of the novels set in the same universe to learn a bit more about the backstory and how the fight began.
If you are a fan of the Warhammer universe, game cutscenes, CGI animation, Space Marines, or fun and violent films about the never ending battle between good and evil, definitely check out Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40,000 Movie on DVD! It’s available now at the official movie site – UltramarinesTheMovie.com. I’m hoping this isn’t the last we see of the Warhammer universe in animated form. I’d hate to see the daemons win!